The BMW i8 hybrid car promises to be the prefect blend of sports car performance with environmental concern
5/18/14 7:34 pm chumakdenis 2
When I first saw BMW i8 I was fascinated with its marvellous design and parameters.
Well, I am not the only guy who thinks so. In Europe, BMW has at least 200 i8 orders and a year-long waiting list from people who haven’t the faintest how it drives.Sounds great, isn't it?
Vehicle type: hybrid coupe with 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine, six-speed auto transmission, rear-wheel drive and electric motor driving the front wheels
Price/on sale: from $136 625/ July
Power/torque: 357bhp/420lb ft
Top speed: limited to 155mph
Range: 375 miles (22 miles electric only)
Recharge time: two hours
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 4.4sec
Fuel economy: 135mpg (52.2-27.3mpg on test)
CO2 emissions: 49g/km
The i8 launch was held in Los Angeles, but ahead of driving it I wondered about just how much BMW needs this car to reduce its European-fleet CO2 emissions and avoid massive fines, as well as spinning its whole i project into profit. And about how wealthy carbon-profligate Californians crave cars such as this to big up their eco credentials.
Whichever way you spin it (and BMW most certainly has), the i8 is damn clever. Sneaking under the radar of the current wave of near million-pound super-hybrids, the BMW uses a similar carbon-fibre body tub, with aluminium subframes and bendy carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic body panels. It tips the scales at 1.5 tons. It also looks amazing, low, layered and almost translucent, with what appears to be a pair of cart-horse blinkers round the front corners and the most audacious flying buttresses since Jaguar’s XJS.
With its windscreen-hinged doors and LED and laser lighting, it attracted thumbs up approval from Los Angelinos. Those doors also effectively rule out bay parking, as they each require 552mm (22 inches) of swing to open. You could find yourself stranded in a multi-storey.
There were smiles as we tumbled bum-first into the cockpit, which isn’t the most dignified of entries. The cabin is cosy but classy and (mostly) comfortable, with BMW’s austere but luxurious interior design, instruments and switches. An analogue power indicator in the driver’s instrument binnacle shows electric motor input/output and a battery-charge meter. The gearlever is entirely conventional, with Drive and Sport positions and steering-wheel paddles.
The front seats are supportive, but not entirely comfy for taller drivers. The rear seats are vestigial, accommodating small children and luggage, and the 154-litre boot will swallow one airline carry on and gets pretty warm.
The i8’s drivetrain, electronically-assisted steering and wishbone front/multilink rear suspension are hung off the subframes. The main power comes from a souped-up Mini engine, a 228bhp/236lb ft, 1.5-litre, turbo three-cylinder which sits across the back and drives the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission.
Under the middle of the cabin are the fuel tank and the 220lb, 7.1kWh lithium-ion battery pack, warranted for eight years and 62,000 miles. Between the front wheels is BMW’s 129bhp/184lb ft AC electric motor driving the front wheels via a two-speed transmission. That allows the i8 to be not just fast, but also to accelerate briskly. To prevent the instant torque of the electric front end dominating the petrol-powered rear, the engine is assisted by a 13bhp/74lb ft starter/motor/generator to help spool up the twin-scroll turbocharger.
There are myriad driving modes, with Comfort the default setting, where unless you’ve pressed the hold button the system will drain the battery to about 30 per cent charge then juggle gasoline and volts to maintain it at around that state. E mode uses only the front electric motor and the 5kWh of available charge for up to 22 miles and 75mph. Sport uses both power sources at full boost, even using the petrol engine to drag the electric motor to recharge the battery, which is spectacularly inefficient but maintains enough charge to give a kick in the back if required. Not that the i8 kicks for long if you’re really on it, which is why BMW hasn’t produced a lap time for the 12.8-mile Nordschleife circuit at the Nürburgring in Germany.
BMW has attended to the noise criticisms to give it a more throaty idle by picking up the exhaust noise and broadcasting it though the cabin’s loudspeakers. It’s a bit over-enthusiastic at times.
After a polyphonic whoosh to indicate the systems are go, the preferred take-off in town is in electric-only mode and the i8 whines softly through Beverley Hills. The Bridgestone Potenza tyres are noisy and don’t have the finest ride quality – occasionally the rear uncomfortably pogos on regular bumps, although expansion joints and potholes are relatively subdued.
On the Pacific Coast Highway the warbling, growling three-pot starts and gives relaxed cruising and a decent turn of speed, although standing starts tail off after an initial heady electric-motor rush and the i8 never feels quite as fast as the 4.4sec 0-62mph claim. On the twisting roads first impressions are that the dynamics, with the lowest centre of gravity of any BMW, are pretty sound. The i8 corners flat and fast with some feedback to the major controls and a supple ride quality.
It’s not all perfect, however. The steering is well weighted but feels a bit woolly, lacking front-end bite, and while the power-split system between internal combustion and electric motors means the i8 turns into corners as a rear-drive car, there’s a strange understeer halfway around a turn and no torque vectoring to pull the front around.
There’s also a geartrain-protecting half-second delay to the throttle actuation, which doesn’t help, and while the tyres seldom relinquish grip they howl when pressing on and lend a strange imbalance to the chassis. Perhaps it’s the tyres, maybe the inherent weight and complication of the hybrid system, or BMW’s fetish for chassis control settings (which inevitably leave you in the wrong one), but there’s a puzzling lack of sharpness in the i8.
In addition the brakes, which have the finest balance of regeneration and friction braking we’ve yet experienced, are spongy when warm, which adds to the impression of imprecision.
Clearly the 113mpg EU economy claim is ludicrous and Carsten Breitfeld, the i Project head, is candid about the real consumption. He says that without a recharge, i8 economy will be about twice that of an M3 – say 40mpg. We achieved 52.2mpg in a throttle-caressing cruise and 27.3mpg driving hard through the canyons. So, however much its owners may boast, those working folk on the bus are producing a lot less CO2.
I wanted to like the i8 so very much. It is truly impressive and special, as well being a gorgeous landmark car, yet its puzzling imprecision means that it falls just short of being a great drive.
Though a few flaws can be singled out, like a trace of wheel hop when accelerating over bumpy terrain in EV mode (BMW says this will be cured before the car hits showrooms in September), inconsistent feedback from the brake pedal, and wavy distortions in the rear window (which happens to be composed of Gorilla Glass, the same stuff that keeps smartphones from shattering), the i8 still emerges as an exceptionally well-executed, high-performance plug-in hybrid. It may be nowhere near as wild as the Porsche 918 Spyder, Ferarri LaFerarri, or McLaren P1–the six and seven-figure triumvirate that thoroughly rules the stratosphere of automotive fantasies–but what’s remarkable about the BMW i8 is it occupies the same price point as comparably performing gasoline-powered sports cars while packing next-level technological innovation into up-to-the-minute styling.
Unlikely to receive the 112 mpg estimate it currently claims on the European cycle (which is kinder than the U.S. EPA certification scale), the BMW i8 remains a stunning testament to the future-friendly combination of awe-inspiring good looks and thrifty, yet thrilling, performance.
There are those will fixate on its unorthodox bodywork or manufactured exhaust note. But for the rest of us smitten by the i8′s unlikely buffet of scissor doors, a three-cylinder engine, and an electric motor, this hybrid supercar proves that sometimes multibillion-dollar gambles pay off, and pave the way for a future that’s both sexy and sensible.